Friday, November 28, 2008

Follow-up Blog visit report: A deleted post by GP

Note to the Reader of this Post:

With the permission of poster GP, I reproduce below [with very slight cleanups and a clarifying note and link or two], what formerly appeared as post no 16 at the UD blog thread on a recent article on the claimed defects of Intelligent Design reasoning as assessed by a statistician, by Prof P Olofsson, a professor of statistics and former commenter at UD.

I must also make honourable mention of UD commenter ES58, who has independently communicated to me a copy of the same post. [Cf previous post of my own deleted comment for his remarks. Thank you, ES58, for your public spiritedness. Your communication allows us to capture the timestamp. Also, some thanks are due to DS, the thread's owner, who kindly temporarily put the post back up, allowing GP to copy it for himself.]

It will be seen that this comment is in effect an informal review of the article, by an informed person; indeed, by a concerned Physician who has been a long-time and highly respected commenter at the Uncommon Descent Blog. (It should be noted that the writer is not a native English Speaker.)

I highly commend it -- and indeed, it supplied the lack noted by UD commenter PaV in what is now comment no 58:
"no one is addressing Prof Olafsson’s paper."
PaV, someone did; with responsible diligence, thoroughgoing solidity and even passionate, but restrained understated eloquence. One, I am proud to own as friend.


[Nov 26, 2008, UD thread on Prof PO's ID critique paper at ]

[comment] 16 [deleted]



6:38 pm

I have read Peter Olofsson’s essay on Talk Reason titled “Probability, Statistics, Evolution, and Intelligent Design” and, while recognizing the correctness of the general tone, I am really disappointed by the incorrectness of the content. With this I do not mean, obviously, that PO does not know his statistics, but that he uses it completely out of context. And many of his errors derive essentially from not being apparently really familiar with biology.
I will try to make some comments.

PO’s arguments are essentially dedicated first to Dembski, and then to Behe. I think he fails in both cases, but for different reasons.

In the first part, he argues against Dembski’s approach to CSI and his explanatory filter.

The first, and main, critic that he does is the following: “He presents no argument as to why rejecting the uniform distribution rules out every other chance hypothesis.”

I’ll try to explain the question as simply as possible, as I see it.

Dembski, example, when applied to biological issues like the sequence of aminoacids in proteins, correctly assumes a uniform probability distribution. Obviously, such an assumption is not true in all generic statistical problems, but Dembski states explicitly, in his works, that it is warranted when we have no specific information about the structure of the search space.

This is a statistical issue [e.g. cf here, here, here and here], and I will not debate it in general.

I will only affirm that, in the specific case of the sequence of aminoacids in proteins, as it comes out from the sequence of nucleotides in the genome through the genetic code, it is the only possible assumption. We have no special reason to assume that specific sequences of aminoacids are significantly more likely than others.

There can be differences in the occurrence of single aminoacids due to the asymmetric redundant nature of the genetic code, or a different probability of occurrence of the individual mutations, but that can obviously not be related to the space of functional proteins. There is really no reason to assume that functional sequences of hundreds of aminoacids can be in any way more likely than non functional ones. This is not a statistical issue, but a biologic one.

So, PO’s critic may have some theoretical ground (or not), but it is totally irrelevant empirically.

His second critic is the following:

“As opposed to the simple Caputo example, it is now very unclear how a relevant rejection region would be formed. The biological function under consideration is motility, and one should not just consider the exact structure of the flagellum and the proteins it comprises. Rather, one must form the set of all possible proteins and combinations thereof that could have led to some motility device through mutation and natural selection, which is, to say the least, a daunting task.”

In general, he affirms that Dembski does not explicitly state how to define the rejection region.

Let’s begin with the case of a single functional protein. Here, the search space (under a perfectly warranted hypothesis of practically uniform probability distribution) is simply the number of possible sequences of that length (let’s say, for a 300 aa protein, 20^300, which is a really huge space). But which is the “rejection region”? In other words, which is the probability of the functional target? That depends on the size of the set of functional sequences. What is that size, for a definite protein length?

It depends on how we define the function.

We can define it very generically (all possible proteins of that length which are in a sense “functional”, in other words which can fold appropriately and have some kind of function in any known biological system). Or, more correctly, we can define it relatively to the system we are studying (all possible proteins of that length which will have an useful, selectable function in that system). In the second case, the target set is certainly much smaller.

It is true, however, that nobody, at present, can exactly calculate the size of the target set in any specific case. We simply don’t know enough about proteins.

So, we are left with a difficulty: to calculate the probability of our functional event, we have the denominator, the search space, which is extremely huge, but we don’t have the numerator, the target space.

Should we be discouraged?

Not too much.

It is true that we don’t know exactly the numerator, but we can have perfectly reasonable ideas about its order of magnitude. In particular we can be reasonably certain that the size of the target space will never be so big as to give a final probability which is in the boundaries, just to make an example, of Dembski’s UPB.

Not for a 300 aa protein. And a 300 aa protein is not a very long protein.

(I will not enter in details here for brevity, but here the search space is 20^300 [NB: ~ 2.037*10^390; the UPB of odds less than 1 in 10^150 as the edge of reasonable probbaility is based on the fact that there are less than 10^150 quantum states of all atoms in the observable universe from its origin to its end, so odds longer than that exhaoust its available probabilistic resources]; even if it were 10^300, we still would need a target space of at least 10^150 functional proteins to ensure a probability for the event of 1:10^150, and such a huge functional space is really inconceivable, at the light of all that we know about the restraints for protein function.)

That reasoning becomes even more absolute if we consider not one protein, but a whole functional system like the flagellum, made of many proteins of great length interacting for function. There, if it is true that we cannot calculate the exact size of the target space, proposing, as PO does, that it may be even remotely relevant to our problem is really pure imagination.

Again, I am afraid that PO has too vague a notion of real biological systems.
So, again, PO’s objections have some theoretical grounds, but are completely irrelevant empirically, when applied to the biological systems we are considering.

That is a common tactic of the darwinian field: as they cannot really counter Dembski’s arguments, they use mathematicians or statisticians to try to discredit them with technical and irrelevant objections, while ignoring the evident hole which has been revealed in their position by the same arguments. PO should be more aware that here we are discussing empirical science, and, what is more important, empirical biological science, which is in itself very different from more exact sciences, like physics, in the application of statistical procedures.

The last point against Dembski regards his arguments in favor of frequentist statistics against the Bayesian approach.

This part is totally irrelevant for us, who are not pure statisticians. Indeed, it will be enough to say that, practically in all biological and medical sciences, the statistical approach is Fisherian, and is based on the rejection of the null hypothesis.

So, Dembski is right for all practical applications.

Indeed, PO makes a rather strange affirmation: “A null hypothesis H0 is not merely rejected; it is rejected in favor of an alternative hypothesis HA”. That is simply not true, at least in biology and medicine. H0 is rejected, and HA is tentatively affirmed if there is no other causal model which can explain the data which appear not to be random. So, the rejection of H0 is done on statistical terms (improbability of the random nature of the data), but the assertion of HA is done for methodological and cognitive reasons which have nothing to do with statistics.

The second part of PO’s essay is about Behe’s TEOE, and the famous problem of malaria resistance.

Here, PO’s arguments are not only irrelevant, but definitely confused.

I’ll do some examples:

“The reason for invoking the malaria parasite is an estimate from the literature that the set of mutations necessary for choloroquine resistance has a probability of about 1 in 10^20 of occurring spontaneously.”

Yes, Behe makes that estimate from epidemiological data of the literature.

But he also points out that the likely reason for that empirical frequency is that chloroquine resistance seems to require at least two different coordinated mutations, and not only one, like resistance to other drugs. Indeed, Behe’s point is that the empirical occurrence of the two kinds of resistance is in good accord with the theoretical probability for a single functional mutation and a double coordinated functional mutation.

Again, PO seems to be blind to the biological aspects of the problem.

“Any statistician is bound to wonder how such an estimate is obtained, and, needless to say, it is very crude. Obviously, nobody has performed huge numbers of controlled binomial trials, counting the numbers of parasites and successful mutation events.”

But Behe’s evaluation is epidemiological, not experimental, and that is a perfectly valid approach in biology.

“Rather, the estimate is obtained by considering the number of times chloroquine resistance has not only occurred, but taken over local populations — an approach that obviously leads to an underestimate of unknown magnitude of the actual mutation rate, according to Nicholas Matzke’s review in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.”

Here PO seems to realize, somewhat late, that Behe’s argument is epidemiological, and so he makes a biological argument at last. Not so relevant, and from authority (Matzke, just to be original!). But yes, maybe there is some underestimation in Behe’s reasoning. Or maybe an overestimation. Thats’ the rule in epidemiological and biological hypotheses. nobody has absolute truth.

“Behe wishes to make the valid point that microbial populations are so large that even highly improbable events are likely to occur without the need for any supernatural explanations.”

No, he only makes the correct point that random events are more likely to occur in large populations than in small populations. If they are not too “highly improbable”, of course. In other words, a two aminoacid coordinated functional mutation “can” occur (and indeed occurs, although rarely) in the malaria parasite. But it is almost impossible in humans.

What has that to do with supernatural explanations? [NB: Cf my discussion here on the misleading contrast natural/supernatural vs the relevant one: natural/artificial, and the underlying materialist agenda that is too often at work, here.]

“But his fixation on such an uncertain estimate and its elevation to paradigmatic status seems like an odd practice for a scientist.”

Uncertain estimates are certainly not an odd practice for a biologist. And anyway, Behe does not elevate his estimate to “paradigmatic status”: he just tries to investigate a quantitative aspect of biological reality which darwinists have always left in the dark, conveniently for them I would say, and he does that with the available data.

“He then gores on to claim that, in the human population of the last 10 million years, where there have only been about 10^12 individuals, the odds are solidly against such an unlikely event occurring even once.”

For once, that’s correct.

“On the surface, his argument may sound convincing.”

It is convincing.

“First, he leaves the concept “complexity” undefined — a practice that is clearly anathema in any mathematical analysis.”

That’s not true. He is obviously speaking of the complexity of a functional mutation which needs at least two coordinated mutations, like chloroquine resistance. That is very clear if one reads TEOE.

“Thus, when he defines a CCC as something that has a certain “degree of complexity,” we do not know of what we are measuring the degree.”

The same misunderstanding. we are talking of mutational events which require at least two coordinated mutations to be functional, like chloroquine resistance, and which in the natural model of the malaria parasite seem to occur with an approximate empirical frequency of 1-in-10^20.

“As stated, his conclusion about humans is, of course, flat out wrong, as he claims no mutation event (as opposed to some specific mutation event) of probability 1 in 10^20 can occur in a population of 10^12 individuals (an error similar to claiming that most likely nobody will win the lottery because each individual is highly unlikely to win).”

Here confusion is complete. Behe is just saying a very simple thing: that a “functional” mutation of that type cannot be expected in a population of 10^12 individuals. PO, like many, equivocates on the concept of CSI ([with bio-] functional specification [being particularly in view]) and brings out, for the nth time, the infamous “deck of cards” or “lottery” argument (improbable things do happen; OK, thank you, we know that).

“Obviously, Behe intends to consider mutations that are not just very rare, but also useful,”

Well, maybe PO understands the concept of CSI, after all. [NB: cf. "useful" and "[bio-] functional."] But then why does he speak of “error” in the previous sentence?

“Note that Behe now claims CCC is a probability; whereas, it was previously defined as a mutation cluster”

That’s just being fastidious. OK, Behe meant the probability of that cluster…

“A problem Behe faces is that “rarity” can be defined and ordered in terms of probabilities; whereas, he suggests no separate definition of “effectiveness.” For an interesting example, also covered by Behe, consider another malaria drug, atovaquone, to which the parasite has developed resistance. The estimated probability is here about 1 in 10^12, thus a much easier task that chloroquine resistance. Should we then conclude atovaquone resistance is a 100 million times worse, less useful, and less effective than chloroquine resistance? According to Behe’s logic, we should.”

Now I cannot even find a logic here. What does that mean? Atovaquone resistance has an empirically estimated probability of 1 in 10^12, which is in accord with the fact that it depends on a single aminoacid mutation. What has that to do with “usefulness”, “effectiveness”, and all the rest?

“But, if a CCC is an observed relative frequency, how could there possibly have been one in the human population? As soon as a mutation has been observed, regardless of how useful it is to us, it gets an observed relative frequency of at least 1 in 1012 and is thus very far from acquiring the magic CCC status.”

Here, Po goes mystical. CCC is an observed relative frequency in the malaria parasite. That’s why we cannot reasonably “expect” that kind of mutation an empirical cause of functional variation in humans. What is difficult in that? Obviously, we are assuming that the causes of random mutations are similar in the malaria parasite and in humans. Unless PO want to suggest that humans are routinely exposed to hypermutation.

“Think about it. Not even a Neanderthal mutated into a rocket scientist would be good enough; the poor sod would still decisively lose out to the malaria bug and its CCC, as would almost any mutation in almost any population.”

I have thought about it, and still can find no meaning in such an affirmation. The point here is not a sporting competition between the malaria parasite and the human race. We are only testing scientific hypotheses.

“If one of n individuals experiences a mutation, the estimated mutation probability is 1/n. regardless of how small this number is, the mutation is easily attributed to chance because there are n individuals to try. Any argument for design based on estimated mutation probabilities must therefore be purely speculative.”

That’s just the final summary of a long paragraph which seems to make no sense. PO seems to miss the point here. we have two different theories which try to explain the same data (biological information). The first one (darwinian evolution) relies heavily on random events as causal factors. Therefore, its model must be consistent with statisticalm laws, both theoretically and empirically.

Behe has clearly shown that that is not the case.

His observations about true darwinian events (microevolution due to drug pressure) in the malaria parasite, both theoretical (number of required coordinated functional mutations and calculation of the relative probabilities) and empirical (frequency of occurrence of those mutations in epidemiological data) are in accord with a reasonable statistical model.

The same model, applied to humans, cannot explain the important novel functional information that humans exhibit vs their assumed precursors.

Therefore, that functional information cannot be explained by the same model which explains drug resistance in the malaria parasite.

Does that seem clear?

It is.

In the end, I will borrow PO’s final phrase:

“Careful evaluation of these arguments, however, reveals their inadequacies.”


I trust that this informal review is as helpful to the reader as it has been to me. END

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A note on a deleted post at UD on the validity of Dembski's design-detecting Explanatory Filter

Note to the Reader of this post:

In recent days, I was informed of a change in management at the blog, Uncommon Descent, which materially altered circumstances there.

In that context, I decided to revisit the blog, and give greetings and well wishes.

I then spent some time monitoring developments there, which were significant and in my opinion, generally positive.

On the strength of some issues that seemed to require inputs of the sort I had made when I formerly was a regular commenter [as a part of a now more or less completed recon in force on trends affecting the Caribbean in the context of the TKI's remit], I thereafter in recent days have made some balancing and corrective remarks on two threads; horrid doubts and a multiverse discussion. (You will observe from the former that there is a problem where off-thread links are often not followed up, even by principals in an exchange, which is in fact the immediate context for the length of the deleted post reproduced below.)

However, this is all in a fairly narrow context. many who may come here may be wondering what the fuss is all about.

So, for those needing an overview of the significance of the Intelligent Design issue and/or balancing remarks on why it is in fact -- many criticisms by objectors notwithstanding -- a legitimate scientific enterprise, I present just below the synopsis to my online briefing note. (NB: This note was always linked through my handle in every post I made at UD.):
SYNOPSIS: The raging controversy over inference to design too often puts out more heat and smoke than light. However, as Cicero pointed out [ . . . ], the underlying issues are of such great importance, that all educated people need to think about them carefully. Accordingly, in the below we shall examine a cluster of key cases, starting with the often overlooked but crucial point that in communication systems, we first start with an apparent message, then ask how much information is in it. This directly leads to the question first posed by Cicero, as to what is the probability that the received apparent message was actually sent, or is it "noise that got lucky"? The solution to this challenge is in fact an implicit inference to design, and it is resolved by essentially addressing the functionality and complexity of what was received, relative to what it is credible -- as opposed to logically possible -- that noise could do. That is, the design inference has long since been deeply embedded in scientific thought, once we have had to address the issue: what is information? Then, we look at several key cases: informational macromolecules such as DNA, the related origins of observed biodiversity, and cosmological finetuning. Thereafter, the issue is broadened to look at the God of the gaps challenge. Finally, a technical note on thermodynamics and several other technical or detail appendices are presented: (p) a critical look at the Dover/ Kitzmiller case (including a note on Plato on chance, necessity and agency in The Laws, Bk X), (q) the roots of the complex specified information concept, (r) more details on chance, necessity and agency, (s) Newton in Principia as a key scientific founding father and design thinker, (t) Fisherian vs Bayesian statistical inference in light of the Caputo case, and (u) the issue of the origin and nature of mind. Cf. Notice below. (NB: For FAQs and primers go here. This Y-zine also seems to be worth a browse.)
The -- still very relevant -- c. 50 BC remark by Cicero is:
Is it possible for any man to behold these things, and yet imagine that certain solid and individual bodies move by their natural force and gravitation, and that a world so beautifully adorned was made by their fortuitous concourse? He who believes this may as well believe that if a great quantity of the one-and-twenty letters, composed either of gold or any other matter, were thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether fortune could make a single verse of them. How, therefore, can these people assert that the world was made by the fortuitous concourse of atoms, which have no color, no quality—which the Greeks call [poiotes], no sense? [Cicero, THE NATURE OF THE GODS BK II Ch XXXVII, C1 BC, as trans Yonge (Harper & Bros., 1877), pp. 289 - 90.]
Then, yesterday, I saw a thread on a matter long ago discussed at length with Professor PO [cf my briefing note appendix on the issue here and another on some linked broader issues here].

I in particular noted that commenter R thought
that he had undercut the general validity of Dembski's Explantatory Filter.

IMO, he is mistaken, having made key logical errors including strawman misrepresentations of the filter and its use, as well as on the issue of false positives and false negatives in statistical inference testing, and most importantly by the self-referential inconsistency of using the filter intuitively even as he set out to "refute" it.

But, such arguments are often persuasive, especially when they are not promptly and fully rebutted.

No such rebuttal was present.

I therefore thought that a response at a somewhat deeper level than was present at the time of my post was indicated, and built one based on my general briefing note, in light of an earlier, well presented comment by commenter GP.

Alas -- even as I was typing up and posting -- GP's comment was deleted by the poster of the original post, on the claim that its length was inappropriate.

GP's apt remarks on the use of epidemiological statistical analyses by Behe to identify the empirically observed boundary to darwinian style evolutionary mechanisms [NB: the malaria parasite undergoes in one year about as many reproductive events as all mammalia would have on the usually accepted bio-geological timeline], and much more; has evidently now been permanently lost. [At first I thought it had been captured by my save-off of the thread on posting, but it had already been deleted by the thread owner, and subsequently no-one has been able to capture a cached copy. UPDATE: I see that it has been captured by ES58, and was briefly put back up to allow GP to copy it, by DS. Further update: the comment is now published here and also appears in the comment below, courtesy ES58.]

Shortly thereafter, the comment reproduced below was also deleted, on the same reported grounds. (Of course, this, if it is UD policy, is a new one; one previously unknown to both GP and myself and contrary to the customary practices at the blog. UD has long been known for the importance of comment exchanges, many of them quite substantial.)

On observing the remark by commenter Tribune that I had a good answer, which he hoped someone had saved, and on receiving a separate request for a copy of the comment, I have decided not to let the matter rest, but to put the comment up here, and to make a brief announcement in the thread that it may be seen here.

I trust this will be acceptable to all.


PS: I see that subsequently commenter R has gone on to make remarks on Bayesian probability issues. I therefore refer him to the notes here in the appendix to my general note in Information, Design Science etc. As he will see from the below, Fisherian-style statistical inference by elimination [to some confidence level] is still a very relevant approach in real world decision making, at intuitive and formal levels. Indeed, in the lost GP post, he made remarks that for most real world epidemiological work, that is what is used. And, on the very simple and solid grounds that for a reasonable scaled sample, distribution tails beyond a reasonable cutoff SHOULD not -- on probabilistic grounds -- appear. Thence, we see the significance of the Dembski style explanatory filter across chance, necessity and agency. [Note to R and DS: I have simply linked for those willing to investigate further for themselves; I will make no attempt to carry out a clumsy cross-blogs debate on a technical matter.]


APPENDIX: The deleted post, slightly cleaned up

[Nov 26, 2008, UD thread on Prof PO's ID critique paper at ]

8:16 am


I think you have unfortunately set up a strawman and are indulging in some selective hyperskepticism, which then leads to self-referential inconsistency on your part:
ID needs its own Eddington to come up with experiments that support ID while disconfirming NDE. . . . . If Dembski’s filter indicates design where there is none — if it cries wolf, in other words — then we can’t trust it, and our question about the existence of design in the biological world remains unanswered . . . .

1. Without accurate probability distributions, Dembski’s method cannot avoid false positives.

2. Dembski concedes that if his method were to generate false positives, it would be useless.

3. To form an accurate probability distribution, we most know all of the possible ways in which the structure in question could have arisen.

4. As DaveScot points out, this is impossible, and so we can never be sure we have an accurate probability distribution.

5. Therefore, according to Dembski’s own criteria, his method is useless.
I will comment:

1 –> Let’s start with a basic fact: you are plainly inferring that the functionally specific, complex patterns of alphanumeric characters encountered in this thread [in the form of "posts"] are the products of intelligence, not what I have elsewhere called “lucky noise.”

2 –> But, in fact, as I discuss here, there is nothing in the physics or the logic of the situation to prevent all the above apparent messages from being the product of mere noise.

3 –> Q: So, why do you infer that you are dealing with messages, not noise?

4 –> ANS: By making an intuitive estimate that it is a far better, and more probable explanation, that the messages above are the product of intelligent agents, rather than mere noise. Namely:
Test 1: Lo/hi contingency — if lo or no, that would most likely be lawlike regularity tracing to mechanical necessity. (Cf: where we have heat, air and fuel, reliably due to mechanical necessity, we have a fire. Similarly, unsupported heavy objects fall.)

Result: But in fact high contingency — e.g. 128-state ASCII characters — so explanations should revert to [a]chance [evidently undirected contingency] or [b] design [purposefully directed contingency]

Test 2: Complex [UPB or a relevant looser criterion] and [especially functionally] specified?

–> Here, the issue is that on the presumption of undirected contingency, we have no reason to prefer any one configuration over another, so the relative statistical weights of clusters will dominate likely observations if chance is the driving force.

–> And if we have some shift from the Laplacian indifference, we can factor that in. [For instance, we routinely do so in assessing codes. In English, E is most common, and X rather unlikely, and Q is usually followed by U. But, in the 1930's someone wrote an entire book in which E does not appear even once.]

–> By contrast, we know from experience and observation that designers direct contingencies to fulfill purposes; so clusters of functionally specific complex configurations that would otherwise be overwhelmingly unlikely to occur, are seen

–> So, if we can identify clusters of accessible configurations that are vastly unlikely to occur by chance, but are functionally specified, we can be confident [note, not "certain"; demanding such would be selectively hyperskeptical] that design was at work

RESULT: in this case, we see sufficiently long passages of ASCII text in English to conclude “design” with high confidence.
5 –> IMPLICATION: In short, you have made a common-sense level design inference to a provisional, probabilistic — but on experience, reliable — conclusion. (For instance, I am highly confident that you have not characterised, modelled and proved out the relevant probability distributions to an indisputable degree of precision and accuracy.) So, simply by participating in this thread, you have not only applied but demonstrated your trust in the explanatory filter at an intuitive level. To then object to the same filter when it delivers inconvenient results, then is both self-referentially inconsistent and selectively hyperskeptical.

6 –> Moreover, far from being useless, the filter is a necessity of real life.

7 –> The above therefore illustrates how we may — and indeed must set out to — credibly and reliably and responsibly know, decide and act beyond what we can prove beyond all rational dispute; especially on matters of momentous fact.

8 –> This is not new, as we may see from section 5 of the introduction to Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding, circa 1690 (pardon the Biblical cites and allusions in Locke’s classic text, Mr Scot):
Men have reason to be well satisfied with what God hath thought fit for them, since he hath given them (as St. Peter says [NB: i.e. 2 Pet 1:2 - 4]) pana pros zoen kaieusebeian, whatsoever is necessary for the conveniences of life and information of virtue; and has put within the reach of their discovery, the comfortable provision for this life, and the way that leads to a better. How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments [Prov 1: 1 - 7], that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties [cf Rom 1 - 2, Ac 17, etc, etc]. Men may find matter sufficient to busy their heads, and employ their hands with variety, delight, and satisfaction, if they will not boldly quarrel with their own constitution, and throw away the blessings their hands are filled with, because they are not big enough to grasp everything . . . It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant [Matt 24:42 - 51], who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us [Prov 20:27] shines bright enough for all our purposes . . . If we will disbelieve everything, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do muchwhat as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly.
9 –> In short, far from being useless, the more formalised explanatory filter as elaborated by Dembski et al, is an extension of how we reason in commonsensical situations.

10 –> More particularly, and as GP pointed out at 16 above, it is an extension of how Fisher and many other investigators have routinely used the concept of clusters of possible outcomes bearing differing relative weights, to identify rejection regions for null hypotheses where he could model and parameterise the relevant distributions.

11 –> As my adverting to configurations, contingencies and relative statistical weights hints at [and as was discussed in earlier threads at length with Prof PO and others], the filter is also building on the foundational principles of statistical thermodynamics; principles that give the statistical underpinnings to say the second law of thermodynamics. In effect, there is a direction of spontaneous — i.e. undirected — change in systems with large numbers of microstates: towards clusters with higher relative statistical weights. (A classic illustration is Hoyle’s tornado in a junkyard in Seattle. Such is utterly highly unlikely to assemble a flyable 747; but, such an outcome is not strictly forbidden by the relevant physics or logic.)

12 –> Further, we see from the above that one may profitably effectively and reliably use intuitive estimates of probabilities, one may use bounds on probabilities, one may use general order of magnitude estimates, one may infer to statistical models from observations of the real world that almost invariably do not precisely fit such ideal models, and one may use a priori criteria for calculation of such probabilities. And, we do so successfully sufficiently often that many statistical inferences that we have a great reliance on statistics in the sciences, management and life generally.

13 –> Worse, many highly useful and commonly applied statistical tests are vulnerable to false negatives and positives, which are often traded-off the one against the other in the design of the test. But that does not make them useless; it simply means that we assign degrees of confidence to our conclusions.

14 –> Further to this, the Dembski UPB is deliberately chosen such that it is very resistant to false positives, cheerfully accepting the prospect of false negatives given the significance of the cases in which it will rule. For, given that the number of possible quantum states in the observed universe across its lifetime are several orders of magnitude below 10^150, if we have a reasonable estimate that a particular configuration (or more properly the island and/or archipelago of function on which it sits) is less than 1 in 10^150 of the reasonably estimated accessible space, then we can be highly confident [indeed, morally certain] that a functional outcome in that island is most unlikely indeed to have been by chance.

15 –> For instance, let us consider genomes to get to first life:
The first challenge of abiogenesis is to start from the 0 square [genome length zero], and in a plausible chemical environment, (i) get to a viable and sustainable prebiotic soup with the requisite monomers in it, then (ii) move to the first islands of function [in the vast pacific of in principle possible configurations]. (For the moment, we will simply assume for the sake of our argument that once a proto-genome reaches the shores of a viable island, it may then proceed through hill-climbing processes such as “random variation” and “natural selection” [i.e. culling based on differential average reproductive success], to move to the mountains of peak performance in that bio-functional niche.)

The immediate problem is that the first such observed islands are of order 100,000 - 1,000,000 base pairs; and in a context where the organisms at the lower end are in effect typically dependent on more complex life forms to make life components they cannot. The relevant 1 million chain-length sub-space has about 1.010 * 10^698,970 configurations, which is again a very large number, which will easily swamp the search resources of the observed cosmos. Even if we take 100,000 elements as a working lower limit, that puts us at 1.001 * 10^69,897; still well beyond the available search resources of the observed cosmos . . . .

Why is that so?

First, biofunction is observed to be code based and specific, i.e. it is vulnerable to perturbation. For instance, three of the 64 possible three-letter codons code for STOP. So, immediately, if we form a substring of three DNA letters at random, the odds are just under 5% that they will be a stop codon . . . . consider a hypothetical genome that requires 100 “necessary” proteins, each with just 100 residues, using altogether 10,000 codons, or 30,000 DNA base pairs. This will require 10,000 codons without an accidental stop in the wrong place, to get the required complement of proteins. The fraction of such 30,000-length genomes that would not be truncated by wrongly placed stop codons is (61/64)^10,000 ~ 1 in [3 * 10^208]. This in itself would make it maximally unlikely that we would get by chance concatenation of DNA elements to a single such minimally functional genome; on the gamut of our observed universe across its typically estimated lifetime. (Nor will autocatalysis of RNA molecules in a hypothetical RNA world, get us to bio-functional, protein-making DNA codes.)
16 –> So, we see here how order of magnitude and bound calculations are more than adequate to show just how tellingly relevant the Dembski filter is for real world situations.

There is no need to demand “accurate” probability distributions, nor is there any need to accept the super-task of specifically identifying all possible pathways for observed configurations to emerge. (Onlookers: Notice the selectively hyperskeptical shift of burden of proof here.)
17 –> Moreover, we know from experience that the filter works: where we have more than 500 - 1,00 or so bits of effective storage space, we see that functionally specified complex information [FSCI] is a reliable artifact of agency, not of chance.

18 –> Finally, the issue is not that the explanatory filter may make false negatives, but that in cases where we have contingencies beyond the UPB, it rules DESIGN, and per our observations it does so reliably. Indeed, it would be an interesting challenge to see if R can come up with a case where:
[a] the EF rules “design” and we directly know the causal story separately well enough to see that it has committed a false positive, or

[b] we see an entity storing more than 500 - 1,000 bits of information and showing functional specification, where the filter will rule “NOT DESIGNED” where in fact it is designed.
19 –> In the case of say Mt Rushmore, the faces each store well beyond 1 k bit of information, and fit the specification of resembling four specific individuals who are well-known historical figures. the filter rules design,a nd we know independently that this is so. There is no false negative there that undermines our confidence in the filter.

As they say in folk dances here in the Caribbean: wheel and tun and come again.




I trust the above will be helpful. END

Friday, November 21, 2008

Matt 24 Watch, 75: A parable on the challenges of civility, as Canada and now Israel boycott the upcoming 2009 Durban II Anti-"Racism" Conference

One of the perennial challenges of democracy and the local and national -- increasingly as well, international -- civil society that is its foundation, is the rise of mob-rule led by extremists, leading to bullying and intimidation. Onward, this too often leads to outright persecution and lynching or -- as the sad 1994 events of Rwanda remind us -- even genocide.

The need to make a principled response to the mob-rule [ochlocracy] challenge is the root of the saying that "I may utterly disagree with your view; but I will defend, to the death, your right to hold and freely express it."

Unfortunately, in an increasingly radicalised and politically correct age, we are beginning to lose sight of that foundational premise of successful democracy.

Therefore, it is instructive for us to reflect on a recent announcement by Ms Tzipi Livni, Foreign Minister of Israel. For, she has just confirmed that Israel will join Canada in boycotting the upcoming April 2009, "Durban II" UN-sponsored Conference on Racism etc, to be held in Geneva.

As Haaretz reports:
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced Wednesday [Nov 20, 2007] that Israel has made a final decision to boycott the United Nations "Durban II" conference on human rights this spring, fearing it would be used once again as a forum for anti-Israeli sentiment . . . .

"The documents prepared for the conference indicate that it is turning once again into an anti-Israeli tribunal, singling out and delegitimizing the State of Israel," Livni told Jewish-American leaders at the UJC General Assembly in Jerusalem.

"The conference has nothing to do with fighting racism," she said. "In view of this situation, I decided that Israel will not participate and will not legitimize the Durban II conference."

The foreign minister also called on the international community "not to participate in a conference which seeks to legitimize hatred and extremism under the banner of a fight against racism."
This call of course immediately brings to our attention the issue of Caribbean participation in the conference and what that might legitimise. So, it would be wise for us to pause and take a second look at the issue of racism and the way it is being projected on the international stage.

Fror that, an Israel Foreign Ministry statement of November 19 provides some initial backdrop, on the controversial Durban I Conference, which -- by a strangely pointed coincidence -- was held only a few days before the 9/11 attacks in September 2001:
The Durban Conference of 2001 became a forum for pernicious accusations and incitement against Israel, attacks against Zionism libeling it as a form of racism, denial of the unique and special nature of the Holocaust, and a distortion of the meaning of the term anti-Semitism.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry continues:
. . . the Asian Group paper which was submitted to the Preparatory Committee [for the Durban II conference] contains the same language of hate which undermined the first Durban Conference. The document reproduces, almost word-by-word, the rhetoric of the Tehran Planning Meeting in 2001, a meeting which led to the Durban 1 farce. Once again extremist Arab and Muslim states wish to control the content of the conference and derail it from its original mission.
Regrettably the Asian document was compiled into the "Draft Outcome Document" [for Durban II], which appears now on an official UN website. In this "Draft Outcome Document" no particular country is named or singled out, except for Israel . . . . Despite our efforts and those of friendly countries, for whose position we are grateful, the conference appears to be heading once again towards becoming an anti-Israeli tribunal, which has nothing to do with fighting racism.
In short, it appears that under the banner of fighting global racism, Israel has again been improperly singled out as the chief -- and only named -- exemplar of "racism" and "apartheid." Worse, one of the chief "singlers out" is a state, Iran, that has openly declared intent to wipe Israel off the map, and has plainly also set out on acquiring the nuclear weapons to do just that.

Further to this, there is now a campaign to redefine "antisemitism" by portraying Arabs (especially Palestinian Arabs) as the posterboy victims of Israeli "antisemitism" and "apartheid."

The actual complexity of the conflicting nationality and homeland claims over the land of Canaan, sadly, is then utterly lost in the over-heated rhetoric.

While it would not be helpful to change gears and focus to try to explain that complexity in details just now, it is fair comment to observe that both Arabs and Jews (as well as the Kurds etc) have historically warranted, legitimate nationalistic claims in the Middle East. Second -- from the 1919 Weismann-Feisal agreement on -- consistently, the Zionists/Israelis have therefore been willing to compromise towards mutual development of the Middle East.

Indeed, such is actually written into the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which in the relevant part states that:
. . . [Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
It is equally fair (though sad) comment to point out that, by contrast the fate of non-Muslim peoples under Islamic rule and the religiously motivated Sharia-based, state enforced policy of Dhimmitude has -- for over a thousand years -- been a longstanding international injustice that is materially parallel to apartheid. On that, global opinion and media have, sadly, largely been silent. (Cf also this blogger's remarks here, here and here.)

In sum, Caricom and the individual Ministries of Foreign Affairs in our region face a significant challenge if we are to address the Durban II conference with integrity, wisdom and fair-minded but firm balance.

To do that, it will be helpful to look to our elder brother Commonwealth nation, Canada.

For, we may see from a Canwest news article datelined February 24, that:
Multiculturalism Secretary of State Jason Kenney announced last month [that] Canada will not attend UN's . . . Durban II Conference, saying it is shaping up to be as anti-Semitic and anti-West as the controversial 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa . . . .

"I expect other countries to make the same decision, and I believe that, if anything, Canada's withdrawal has given more leverage to those who are combating the voices of intolerance - voices that once more seem to have hijacked the Durban process," Kenney said in an interview . . . .

Iran, whose leadership has called for Israel's destruction, sits on an executive planning committee for the 2009 conference, while Libya occupies the chair.

Among proposed agenda items is one called "Islamophobia," which Arab and Islamic countries define as a rise in anti-Muslim discrimination around the world. But critics say it's code for both attacking the West's anti-terrorism efforts and diluting the horrors of the Holocaust by stating Muslim Semitic peoples are the new anti-Semitism victims.

In short, the conference planning process has unfortunately again been riddled with major conflicts of interest and agendas that render it utterly unlikely to credibly face and address its stated focus on the quite important global questions of racism and xenophobia.

In some cases, the reasons behind such propagandistic distortions of international events are only too obvious, but there are subtler challenges at work. Challenges that are equally relevant to us in the Caribbean as we look to Non-Government Organisations [NGO's], Aid/Donor Agencies and Inernational bodies, conferences, declarations and the like to guide us in our reflections on and dealings with international issues.

David Matas of Bnai Brith, Canada, provides a useful start point, in his review on what went wrong at Durban I, through focussing on the parallel Non-Governmental Organisation [NGO] Forum that (by design) influenced the course of and outcomes from the official, Government level conference:

. . . the inexperience of the organizers, and the absence of both clear rules and institutional structures meant that those with a political agenda were able to turn the [Durban I] NGO Forum away from human rights and to their own agenda . . . .

To compound their difficulties, the organizers of the NGO Forum decided to include in the Declaration and Program of Action the voices of the victims, speaking about their victimization. The trouble with that notion is that, in times of war, both sides typically see themselves as the victims and their enemies as perpetrators . . . . In such a situation it was all too easy for a declaration and program of action to become the voice not of the many, but of a few, the wildest and most determined extremists.

The nongovernmental world is no holier that the governmental world. Powerlessness does not sanctify . . . . Non-governmental organizations are, after all, like governments, just people, and often the same people on their way into or out of government.

In short, both governments and NGOs can all too easily fall victim to cleverly packaged extremist agendas, if he well-intentioned majority do not insist on a fair, balanced, well governed, civil process. And, where NGOs are influential, breakdowns at that level can then improperly influence governments to follow extremist agendas.

Matas then spoke to the plight of the well-intentioned but naive:

. . . Human rights NGOs have learned to be suspicious of governments that mouth the human rights vocabulary and do little else. Governmental human rights hypocrisy is easily identified and condemned. These same human rights NGOs have been far less likely to scrutinize the incantation of human rights platitudes by political nongovernmental organizations.

The naivete and misdirection of human rights NGOs have created an opportunity for political NGOs. Political activists who have little regard for human rights use human rights discourse to discredit and delegitimize their opponents. They turn to human rights NGOs to endorse their cause, asking human rights NGOs to condemn their opponents as human rights violators. Human rights NGOs, as often as not, have been blind to this political manipulation and have bought into the agenda of those political movements which use the proper human rights vocabulary.

Political NGOs are sometimes nongovernmental in name only. Human rights NGOs are reluctant to take money from governments, for fear that it might compromise their independence. Political NGOs are not as reluctant, and are often financed by sympathetic governments. GONGOs, government organized NGOs, have been a traditional feature of communist regimes, but they proliferate wherever repression is found.


We trust and pray that our Foreign Ministries and Caricom's international affairs desks will therefore act with wisdom, balance and sober-minded, firm integrity as the April 2009, Durban II conference comes up on our region's international agenda.

However, the underlying challenge to the civility rooted foundations of democracy is not confined to the issue of racism, or the upcoming Durban II conference.

And so, God willing, we will next take a look at some further cases in point. END

Friday, November 07, 2008

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 56: Connecting some dots from Islamist views on the Temple to Mahdism-linked expectations of the West by Mr Ahmadinejad

Ahmed Qurei is the Palestinian Authority official who leads "peace" negotiations with Israel.

So, we need to look very closely indeed, and with deepest concern, when we learn from a recent Aaron Klein WND report that on Wednesday just past, he said:
"Israeli occupation authorities are trying to find a so-called Jewish historical connection [between Jerusalem and the Temple Mount] . . . but all these attempts will fail. The [Temple Mount] is 100 percent Muslim."
Now, immediately, obviously and blatantly, this is false: there are some three thousand years of history and associated abundant archaeological materials that connect Judaism and Jews (as well as Christians) to Israel, to Jerusalem, and to the Temple that was built there under Solomon, then again under the exiles returning from Babylon, and which was then upgraded and transformed by Herod into a wonder of the First Century world, through a forty-seven year long major building programme.

That Temple was destroyed by Roman armies in AD 70, as an unintended result of suppressing the Jewish rebellion from 66 AD on. The Western, or so-called "wailing" Wall, is a remnant from that Temple, which has for many centuries been a place for prayer for Jews.

Why then is there this blatantly counter-factual denial by representatives of the Palestinian Authority?

Simple: to those who believe such deceptive revisionism on the facts of history, it de-legitimises the claims of Jews to their roots, and demonises them as deceivers and oppressors.

Such demonisation is then a motivation for the end times conquest by the end-times Black Flag Armies of the Mahdi as he sets up his "global government," as we just discussed in yesterday's post. [Cf. here on the complex issues linked to our roots in Abraham, and here on the related history of Modern Israel.]

That of course directly falls into line with the Islamist view of the Mahdi and his predicted exploits, as Joel Richardson recently summarised:
The Mahdi is Islam’s primary messiah figure. He will be a descendant of Muhammad and will bear Muhammad’s name (Muhammad bin Abdullah). He will be a very devout Muslim.He will be an unparalleled spiritual, political and military world leader. He will emerge after a period of great turmoil and suffering upon the earth. He will establish justice and righteousness throughout the world and eradicate tyranny and oppression. He will be the Caliph and Imam (vice-regent and leader) of Muslims worldwide. He will lead a world revolution and establish a new world order. He will lead military action against all those who oppose him. He will invade many countries. He will make a seven year peace treaty with a Jew of priestly lineage. He will conquer Israel for Islam and lead the “faithful Muslims” in a final slaughter/battle against Jews. He will establish the new Islamic world headquarters from Jerusalem. He will rule for seven years (possibly as much as eight or nine). He will cause Islam to be the only religion practiced on the earth. He will appear riding a white horse (possibly symbolic). He will discover some previously undiscovered biblical manuscripts that he will use to argue with the Jews and cause some Jews to convert to Islam. He will also re-discover the Ark of the Covenant from the Sea of Galilee, which he will bring to Jerusalem. He will have supernatural power from Allah over the wind and the rain and crops. He will posses and distribute enormous amounts of wealth. He will be loved by all the people of the earth. [I have converted his list to paragraph format.]
In this context, a telling hadith on the anticipated slaughter just noted on is:

Sahih Muslim Book 041, Number 6985:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

This is simply unacceptable in any civilised context.

Then, we further see for instance from recent MEMRI translations of broadcasts from the Middle East that Palestinian Cleric Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris stated in March 2005, on Palestinian TV, that "The day will come when we will rule Britain and the entire world." We gain a deeper insight on that from UK-based Islamic Cleric Abu Hamza Al-Masri, who is on audio tape to the effect that "In the end of the day, Islam must control Earth, whether we like it or not."

So, we have a context to understand President Ahmadinejad of Iran's July 2004 statement about Islam, that: "It will conquer all the mountain tops of the world."

In that light of a religiously motivated global conquest ideology, with a particular emphasis on a future holocaust of the Jews of Israel, we can now critically assess Mr Ahmadinejad's congratulatory remarks on the recent election of Mr Obama as US President:
"As you [i.e. Mr Obama] know, the opportunities provided by the Almighty God, which can be used for elevation of nations, or God forbid, for their collapse, are transient . . . . The nations of the world also expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, contempt of nations and imposing discriminatory policies on them to be replaced by the ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship and non-interference in other countries' internal affairs . . . . If you take steps on the divine path and follow the teachings of divine prophets, God, the Almighty, will help you to make up in part for the heavy damage inflicted [by the U.S.] in the past."
Now, the context of "non-interference" -- while it does of course have a point about the many sins of the West -- has to be seen in particular light of the ongoing issue and evidence that Iran has (in defiance of its commitments under the international Non-Proliferation Treaty) plainly set about acquiring nuclear weapons in a context linked to extremist Mahdism; which, equally clearly, is a religiously motivated, global conquest ideology.

Even worse, Mr Ahmadinejad himself has repeatedly gone on record that Israel is to be wiped off the map, or the equivalent thereto.

In light of Hadiths such as we have examined and the known commitment of the Iranian regime to Islamism, that has to be taken seriously.

Very seriously.

As an ideological incitement to genocide.

And that by a leader of a regime that, on credible evidence, is seeking the means to carry out just such genocide.

So, it is more than fair comment for us to observe that principles of no unjustified interference in the affairs of nations and of recognition of the right to fulfillment of the national aspirations of all peoples must hold both ways.

No exceptions.

Thus, it is proper for us to call on Mr Ahmadinejad and company to repudiate the Mahdist global conquest ambition we have documented in recent days, here.

Similarly, if Palestinians have a legitimate claim to be a people rooted in the Holy Land, just so also do the Jews. It does no good, then, to try to rewrite the history of Jerusalem and its Temple counter to massively evident facts; to demonise those targetted in the above hadiths for conquest and slaughter.

Third, the American and NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan was in response to the Taliban regime's hosting and facilitating -- then refusing to hand over -- Al Qaeda forces implicated in an act of barbaric piracy, mass-murder and war, on September 11, 2001. An act that claimed the lives of nearly three thousand innocent civilians, from some ninety countries around the world.

Even the far more controversial resort to renewal of major hostilities against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq in 2003 under various UN Security Council resolutions, was occasioned by that Dictator's persistent material breach of cease-fire and armistice terms, manifesting a clear intent to retain the means for his repeated aggression against his neighbours and even minorities among his own people [who in aggregate were the majority of his country's population].

For instance, as long ago as December 16, 1998, President Bill Clinton of the USA, in announcing renewed bombing of Iraq, observed (as cited in the just linked):
"Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons. . . . Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: he has used them. Not once, but repeatedly. . . . I have no doubt today that, left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again."
Indeed, we can see from the same just linked article how, in 2002, in light of an international intelligence consensus ["Bush (and/or Blair) lied, people died" is an ill-founded and too often intentional or careless slander], Mr Chuck Schumer, Mrs Hillary Clinton, Mr John Edwards, Mr Howard Dean and Ms Nancy Pelosi went on record as follows:
Schumer: Hussein’s vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and his present and potential future support for terrorist acts and organizations . . . make him a terrible danger to the people of the United States.

Clinton: My position is very clear. The time has come for decisive action to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s WMD’s.

Edwards: Every day [Saddam] gets closer to his long-term goal of nuclear capability.

Dean: There’s no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the U.S. and our allies.

Pelosi: “[Saddam] has chemical weapons. He has biological weapons. He is trying to get nuclear weapons.”
In short, it is highly credible that the Hussein regime brought the invasion down on themselves through their persistent material breach of the Armistice.

So, plainly, the international challenges we face today are not a one-sided issue of an evil Great Satan visiting harm on the world out of malevolence and incompetence. For there is serious reason to see that nations and peoples around the world have been subjected to an ideological war of subjugation launched by men who do not shun to mass-murder innocents. No serious national leader can act prudently without explicitly reckoning with that unpleasant but all too real -- and evidently growing -- challenge.

Therefore, if instead there is to be a new day of real peace in international affairs [and not mere surrender to tyranny], that has to include a new day for Islamists and Mahdists.

If not, all that would be accomplished by empty peace talks and unilateral geostrategic retreats would be spineless and feckless appeasement in the face of a rising, plainly ruthless danger.

The 1930's are historical proof enough on where that can lead.

But, this time around, we are
not dealing with panzers, dive-bombing stukas and medium-range propeller-driven bombers carring maybe one to two tons of bombs each. Nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are in play. Weapons that can wipe out whole cities and hundreds of thousands or more at one go; with little or no warning.

So, will we learn from history, or repeat its mistakes -- yet again? END

Thursday, November 06, 2008

1 Chron 12:32 report, 55: responding to the challenge of the islamist expectation of all-conquering black flag armies from the direction of Khorasan

One of the grimmest warnings Jesus ever gave was this rebuke to the Pharisees and Sadducees:
MT 16:2 He replied, "When evening comes, you say, `It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' 3 and in the morning, `Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times . . . "
Similarly, in John 8 he was moved to rebuke both the leaders and the people of Israel (including some of his own disciples!), thusly:
43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say . . . 45 . . . because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!
In short, conventional wisdom among the elites and highly popular views can be wrong, devastatingly wrong -- especially at those hinge-moments of history that the Greeks called times of kairos. (For, at such times, it can be terribly tempting to heed the call of folly and confidently march to its truth- and wisdom- suppressing drumbeat that tickles our itching ears with the stories we want to hear. Thus, those who heed the call of folly confidently march to ruin; as have ever so many communities now strewn across the ash-heaps of history.)

Instead, we must seek to truly and soundly understand our times for ourselves in light of God's word and relevant situational factors and trends that often do not make it into the headlines until it is too late to make a difference; to see what we should do.

So, as we continue to assess where we stand in this hour of global kairos, we must now turn to the implications of Islamist-Mahdist eschatology based on certain key hadiths (recorded, more or less authoritative traditions) of Mohammed.

In particular, Joel Richardson has given us an important summary excerpt on the relevant traditions, from the book The Approach of Armageddon? An Islamic Perspective (Canada, Supreme Muslim Council of America, 2003), by Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabani – a chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America:
Hadith indicate that black flags coming from the area of Khorasan will signify the appearance of the Mahdi is nigh. Khorasan is in todays Iran, and some scholars have said that this hadith means when the black flags appear from Central Asia, i.e. in the direction of Khorasan, then the appearance of the Mahdi is imminent. [p. p. 231.]
Richardson (NB: a protective pseudonym), aptly citing and summarising from several other Muslim sources, explains:
In Islam there are two flags. One is white and one is black. Written across both flags in Arabic are the words, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger”. [That is, the Shahada or core Islamic creed.] The white flag is called Al-Liwaa and serves as the sign for the leader of the Muslim army and is the flag of the Islamic State. The black flag is called Ar-Raya and is used by the Muslim army. It is also called the flag of jihad, and is carried into battle. One flag is governmental and the other is a military flag . . . .

Islamic tradition pictures the Mahdi as joining with the army of Muslim warriors carrying black flags. The Mahdi will then lead this army to Israel [with the support of
Prophet Isa, the Muslim eschatological "Jesus" figure] and re-conquer it for Islam. The Jews will be slaughtered until very few remain and Jerusalem will become the location of the Mahdi’s rule over the Earth. [Explanatory parentheses added.]
A Christmas 2006 Iranian Government press release examined in this blog in January 2007 gives further details from the (NB: significantly divergent but also quite parallel!) Shiite perspective, highlighting the roles of the Mahdi and Isa. First, some introductory remarks:
. . . mankind has not yet been able to eliminate poverty and remove the unequal distribution of income in the society, because of the unjust world order imposed by the so-called big powers, which by monopolizing science and technology terrorize weaker nations and plunder their wealth and natural resources . . . However, the exploitation of the weak, the unjust system of distribution and denial of the rights of nations, will end with the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (AS). In the government of the Imam man will witness real economic welfare throughout the world without any discrimination. The main issue in his global government is carrying out social justice and one of the main products of social justice is a highly developed economy that leads to the blossoming of moral and spiritual values as emphasized by the dynamic teachings of Islam.
The account then gives details on the Mahdi's projected career:
. . . no source has pointed to the exact date when the Savior will appear and only God knows about the exact timing of the reappearance of Imam Mahdi (AS) . . . . Imam Mahdi and steadfast devotees will gather in Mecca . . . . After his appearance the Imam would remain in Mecca for some time, and then go to Medina. According to narrations Sofyani, a descendant of the Prophet’s archenemy Abu Sofyan will seize Syria and attack Iraq and the Hejaz with the ferocity of a beast . . . . many incidents take place in this line and finally Imam Mahdi sends troops who kill the Sofyani in Beit ol-Moqaddas, the Islamic holy city in Palestine that is currently under occupation of the Zionists. . . .

The seat of the Mahdi’s global government will be the city of Kufa [in Iraq, a divergence from the Sunni view above], where his headquarters will be the Sahla Mosque, presently outside the city that was the home of Prophet Idrees or Enoch long before the great deluge of the times of Prophet Noah. From here he will dominate the east and the west to fill the earth with justice. [What such "justice" might mean for women and non-muslims, sadly, is exemplified not only by the notorious track record of the Iranian Mullahs and the Taliban, but also by a recent heart rending incident of a 13 year old girl in Somalia stoned to death for "adultery" after complaining of being raped; here.]
Prophet Isa is also introduced:
Another beautiful moment of the Savior's appearance is the coming down of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) from heaven. Hazrat Mahdi receives him courteously and asks him to lead the prayers. But Jesus says you are more qualified for this than me . . . Imam Mahdi will be the leader while Prophet Jesus will act as his lieutenant in the struggle against oppression and establishment of justice in the world. Jesus had himself given the tidings of the coming of God's last messenger and will see Mohammad's ideals materialize in the time of the Mahdi.
Guyana-born Islam expert, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo of Barnabas Fund, adds:
Muslims believe that Jesus will come back to earth as a Muslim, will marry and have children, then die and be buried near Muhammad. Some traditions assert that at this second coming He will destroy every cross, kill all Jews, convert the Christians to Islam, and reign as king of all Muslims.” [A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Islam, Christian Focus/Isaac, 2002., p. 22.]
Richardson then sums up "the person and the mission of the Mahdi as he exists in the minds of many of the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide":
The Mahdi is Islam’s primary messiah figure. He will be a descendant of Muhammad and will bear Muhammad’s name (Muhammad bin Abdullah). He will be a very devout Muslim.He will be an unparalleled spiritual, political and military world leader. He will emerge after a period of great turmoil and suffering upon the earth. He will establish justice and righteousness throughout the world and eradicate tyranny and oppression. He will be the Caliph and Imam (vice-regent and leader) of Muslims worldwide. He will lead a world revolution and establish a new world order. He will lead military action against all those who oppose him. He will invade many countries. He will make a seven year peace treaty with a Jew of priestly lineage. He will conquer Israel for Islam and lead the “faithful Muslims” in a final slaughter/battle against Jews. He will establish the new Islamic world headquarters from Jerusalem. He will rule for seven years (possibly as much as eight or nine). He will cause Islam to be the only religion practiced on the earth. He will appear riding a white horse (possibly symbolic). He will discover some previously undiscovered biblical manuscripts that he will use to argue with the Jews and cause some Jews to convert to Islam. He will also re-discover the Ark of the Covenant from the Sea of Galilee, which he will bring to Jerusalem. He will have supernatural power from Allah over the wind and the rain and crops. He will posses and distribute enormous amounts of wealth. He will be loved by all the people of the earth. [I have converted his list to paragraph format.]
Now, a key shocker:


That takes on a very significant colouration, when we cite a key "black flag army" hadith reported by "Thawban, a companion [of Mohammed]" directly:
The Messenger of Allah said: The black banners will come from the East and their hearts will be as firm as iron. Whoever hears of them should join them and give allegiance, even if it means crawling across snow.
Further -- and as the above press release hints at -- the current Iranian regime sees itself in key quarters as the way-preparers for and vanguard of the Mahdi, who is held by Shias to be the re-emergent twelfth Imam of Shia Islam. (This is of course the same Iran that sits in a strategically commanding position next ot the Straights of Hormuz choke-point on the Persian Gulf oil artery. And, Mr El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency recently reported them as having already modified ballistic missiles to take nuclear warheads, and as being only months away -- technologically speaking -- from having nuclear warheads.)

In short, any geostrategic retreat or major defeat of the West in the general region from Syria to Pakistan will be interpreted by the Islamists and as many other Muslims as they can persuade as a signal to rise up en masse, join the "invincible" Black Flag Armies, and march on Jerusalem.

And, just such a geostrategic defeat/retreat -- all too familiarly similar to the devastating one in Indochina in the mid 1970's that cost millions across that region their lives, and caused much havoc across the world until it was turned around by the firm resolve of the 1980's that led to the collapse of the Soviet Empire at the turn of the 1990's -- is contemplated by the incoming US administration. (Resemblance to the situation envisioned in Ezekiel 38 (with sidelights from Zechariah Ch 12 and Ch 13) is perhaps not coincidental.)

In short, the recent remarks made by Mr Biden on an early geostrategic test for Mr Obama, may prove to be inadvertently tellingly insightful:
"Mark my words," the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."

"I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate," Biden said to Emerald City supporters, mentioning the Middle East and Russia as possibilities. "And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you - not financially to help him - we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right."
In the case of Mr Kennedy, within six months of his election: (i) he ineptly handled the Playa de Giron attempted invasion (cancelling what would probably have been decisive air support . . . ), and then (ii) in the Vienna summit he did so poorly [cf. Kennedy's post summit confession: "He beat the h--- out of me," and a recent commentary here] with Khrushchev, that the Soviet Dictator decided to push hard. First at Berlin, by building the infamous Wall, and then ultimately by putting Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles and nuclear-capable Il-28 bombers into Cuba.

These last were only withdrawn after the world came within twelve hours of an American invasion of Cuba that would have led the Soviet tactical nuclear missile brigade there -- unbeknownst to the Americans -- to fire off its weapons, at not only the approaching fleet but probably also several US States, triggering a global nuclear war. In the end, Khrushchev "called" Kennedy on the hot-line [actually, a teletype system], and pulled out his missiles; but on the bargain that Castro's regime would be secure and that US Missiles long in place in places like Turkey would also be withdrawn.

This is the reason that Cuba has been for decades a safe haven and base for the export of Marxist revolution all across the hemisphere and beyond. (NB: We should remind ourselves that over the past 100 years, Marxian tyrannies have not only been consistent economic failures, but also have been collectively responsible for the deaths of well over 100 millions of their own citizens. Cuba's regime is somewhat low on the list, at "only" about 18,000. [Cf examples here, and a discussion here.])

In short, it is by no means clear that Kennedy was right in going to Vienna in May 1961, or in subsequent cases.

What then, should we do?
1] Seek to understand our times in ways that do not rely on the soundness of the headlined conventional wisdoms or popular opinions of our day.

2] Instead, we need to dig beyond the headlines to understand the driving trends and too often censored/suppressed material facts and factors, so that we may soundly assess the ideas and agendas that are being pushed on us in the name of forces as diverse as: news, entertainment, education, "science," international treaties, "development," grants for development, "liberation," "saving the earth," "rights," "progress," etc.

3] Chief among these alternatives, is that we must now seek to build a sound, broad and deep understanding of the Word of God, with insights on how it has affected the course of our civilisation, its key institutions and its history, including for instance the rise of modern science and of modern liberty and democratic self government.

4] We need to appreciate the force of Jesus' counsel in Matt 24, on the three key trends of end times: deception, chaos, and the advance of the gospel in the teeth of chaos, dislocation and pain, confusion, hostility and outright persecution.

5] In that light, we need to rise up to our call under the discipling mandate of the church in our region, and from our region.

6]We must prepare our people to resist deception and handle the forces of chaos, soundly preparing for the waves of economic disaster and potential conflict that lie ahead.

7] Among other things that means we need to renew agriculture systems so that we can feed ourselves well enough that we can survive what would happen if, say, a war in the Middle East were to reach proportions that would disrupt trade patterns and the global economy.

8] Similarly, we must urgently find at least survival-level alternative energy systems, as such a war could easily cut the oil arteries through the Persian Gulf; causing the price of oil to spike so high that the recent unprecedented and devastating surge to nearly U$ 150/barrel will look mild by comparison. (Nor is it wise for us to be ever deeper in debt to Venezuela's strongman, an ally of Iran.)

9] For all of these reasons, and many other challenges, we will need to build capacity. That brings us back to the keystone strategic importance of building a cyber-campus based college that can work with micro-campus centres based in churches and other existing facilities and sites across our region.

10] Such an emergent college should in the first instance focus on the range: second chance secondary education to the associate degree level, with targetted degree and graduate/ professional courses beyond that level. In addition, specialist workshops and seminars on a wide range of relevant topics would be important.

11] Such an initiative would also catalyse a network of local vision and action initiatives built up around the idea that the church's mission is transformative for all of life, as we are the fulness of him who fills everything in every way, to bless it through the grace of God. [Cf Eph 1:17 - 23, 4:9 - 24 etc.]
So, why not now, why not here, why not us? END

More added on the early Kennedy Administration. Links on democide and related topics.